Hannah’s offbeat senior session
A high school senior gets her senior portraits taken by Big Sky Photo in front of Leon's Frozen Custard in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Hannah’s offbeat senior session

Pre-session meetings

Not everyone needs to meet me before a high school senior session. Many times I’ll meet the seniors for the first time with a camera in my hands when all the important details have already been decided. 

But in the few times they’ve wanted to meet me, their senior photographer, before our session it’s yielded a lot of benefits.

I met Hannah and her mother for coffee at one of my favorite Milwaukee coffee shops, Colectivo in Wauwatosa. I’ve met clients there an untold number of times before, wedding clients and senior clients. Hannah was going to graduate from Brookfield East High School.

Knowing that she had requested meeting me, I already knew a couple things about Hannah. The first and most important thing was that she really CARED about her pictures. It’s a small thing and you wouldn’t think this is the case, but not everyone is super invested in their photography.

Even with weddings, some clients would rather have me in the background not bothering them and afterward I don’t hear much from them either way. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s my job as a portrait photographer to work with them as well and make sure they’re happy with the experience.

With seniors, this divide can be more pronounced. Even on my website’s contact form I have an option to clarify what they want. High school senior clients can choose between whether wanting their pictures super creative or as painless as possible. Quite a number of senior boys choose the latter option, but leave telling me that they still had a good time, partly because I didn’t push them into making the session more than they wanted.

Hannah was the opposite. She wanted the session to be as creative as possible and she was ready to brainstorm with me. 

Besides brainstorming, the other benefit for me is that I get to meet and see whom I’m photographing. I can then get an idea of what to expect from them and get an idea about what kind of poses would work for them and which wouldn’t work. 

I’ll also get a read on their personality. Hannah was more adventurous and outgoing so I knew she could do poses that were more daring, meaning poses with her shoulders back, arms out, chin up and ones that were big.

With seniors that are more quiet and shy I may ask them to close up, draw their shoulders and arms inward and become smaller. This may make them more comfortable and they may pose this way instinctively.

Artistic and off-beat locations

Specifically in regard to Hannah, it was really helpful that in our meeting she was able to tell me what she was looking for in terms of backdrops and since we were chatting face to face I was able to get a fuller idea of what that meant rather than talking over phone or email.

And because of meeting ahead of our photoshoot, I then had time to go home after our meeting and think and research locations.

Hannah was looking for something a little bit more artistic and outside the box. She wasn’t afraid of grunge locations, but she really wanted a spot that had vibrant colors and was more unique.

We agreed to do most of the session in this artistic and industrial location, but still have a smaller portion be in a classical scenic location. The classic location was Atwater Park, a beautiful clean and fresh beach in northern Milwaukee. 

But, the other spots were going to be creative and in the city. Hannah had one specific location request which was the underpass of I-794 connecting the Third Ward neighborhood with downtown. 

She loved this spot, because there was a lot of beautifully painted murals on the concrete pillars and she had taken photos in this spot previously with her friends.

I loved that she wanted to take photos here, because I knew we could take photos throughout the Old Third Ward as we headed near to the underpass. 

For more senior portraits in the Third Ward Neighborhood, check out Sam’s portrait session.

As for the third location, this was the one I was really excited about. Because of her creativity, I suggested taking portraits at Leon’s Frozen Custard, an outdoor walk-up custard shop on the south side of Milwaukee.

The fun thing about this custard shop is that it has a couple big neon signs portraying its name and it had a funky retro vibe, which suited Hannah and her retro funky clothing style.

We had settled on the custard shop, but had also considered Zocalo Food Truck Park and Up Down Bar in Milwaukee. All of them would have those lit up backgrounds and been super amazing places to photograph. (If you’re looking to do your senior portraits and want to try an artistic place like this, let me know!)

A simple posing tip

I feel compelled to mention this note about Hannah’s posing ability. I wanted to bring this up, because when we were taking photos I told Hannah that without a doubt she had done this better than everyone else and that I should show her senior portrait as an example for how to pose well. So, here I am giving her props for her good work!

The pose I’m talking about came up when she was at Atwater in a silver dress and barefoot on the water of Lake Michigan.

One of the biggest keys to a successful pose is getting your arms off of your body. No matter your size this will be very flattering and not flatten out your arms and show off the classic hourglass figure.

Unless you have something to hold onto, this can be a little bit tricky. You still want it to look natural. So, one thing I ask people to do is to let your hands hang down on your legs and then just pull them up a little bit. It will look like your hands are resting on your leg and it will create separation between your arm and your body. It also won’t look quite as obvious as if you were putting your hands directly on your waist. (That can work at times, but other times it can look like the classic sorority sister pose)

Hannah nailed this pose. Posing with her arms and hands, along with placing her feet one in front of another gave her a great look that really showed off her dress and was flattering. 

If you see this photo and read this blog and are nervous about posing in front of camera, feel free to practice this technique in front of the mirror and see if you can make it look flawless and natural.

If you want to brainstorm for your high school senior portrait session, feel free to reach out to me. I mostly photograph in the Milwaukee area, but also go to the surrounding areas, even out to Kenosha, Lake Geneva and Oshkosh.

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